Spring brings a range of major vendor technology and developer events, showing off new products or features. Chatbot innovations are high on the list for the likes of Facebook, Google and others, and indicate exciting changes in how we interact with our robot friends. 

The chatbot market is an interesting one. With specialist and niche vendors competing on an open field, where the major tech brands are scrambling to make an impact. Questions like, what should bots do? How should they react and where should the technology go all have different answers, depending on who’s talking.

But, the major players make the most noise and their recent events have created plenty of chatter about how chatbot technology will evolve to boost ecommerce and business.

Big Boy Bot Talk

Microsoft’s Build Event used to be home to all sorts of exciting hardware and Windows news. However, the company is rapidly transitioning to a software and services company, focused solely on helping businesses work smarter.

As such, its Azure-powered bot platform is a key component of current and future business plans. In a recent post, it cites “Conversational AI is the next user interface (UI) wave in computing. We’ve evolved from a world of having to learn and adapt to computers to one where they’re learning how to understand and interact with us. Natural interactions with computers start with language, speech, and semantic understanding, and continues through supporting rich multi-model interactions.”

At the event, it revealed features like the Bot Builder SDK and Improved Bot Framework Emulator (all in v4 preview mode). These can help businesses quickly develop a simple bot that can then be updated with new cutting-edge features like Bot Builder Tools to enable a conversational app-centric development workflow and adding intelligence, using Microsoft Cognitive Services Language Understanding and QnAMaker knowledge bases. QnAMaker is an easy-to-use web-based service to train an AI to respond to user questions in a more natural, conversational way.

For consumers, Microsoft and Amazon also showed off Cortana and Alexa working together, although Cortana is rapidly tailing off as a user choice with the death of Windows Mobile devices.

Facebook Talks Pictures

As gate holder of one of the leading bot delivery platforms, Facebook has a lot of sway. At the company’s recent F8 conference, it relaxed the ban on new bots as part of its recent security review, with 300,000 bots using it. Facebook also announced AR for the Messenger Platform. This allows businesses to use the Camera Effects Platform to integrate AR into Messenger chats.

This will help move the virtual and physical shopping experience closer. Launch partners showing off the feature include the likes of ASUS who can demonstrate new hardware in AR and help Nike’s sleek trainers to highlight all the little details and motifs that make them worth so much.

Google IO For Bots

Google set many tongues wagging with its Duplex AI, a bot using AI and WaveNet technology that talks almost like a normal human being, with pauses, umms and ahhs added to the usual conversational narrative. Ignoring the “should people know they are talking to a bot” concerns, it is an impressive effort.

The company also unleashed an Enterprise Dialogflow chatbot platform (formerly API.AI) out of beta. It allows any company to developer AI-based bots with advanced learning and understanding features.

Google’s Assistant also got a healthy update, adding new voices and remembering previous statements or conversations so users can pick up where the left off. It can also handle multiple part questions, demonstrating increased flexibility, for complex queries like: “What’s the weather like in London and Paris?”

As all of these developments become the norm for chatbots and virtual assistants, people will become more comfortable when talking to them. Advanced processing and AI means they can better answer our questions and become the dominant force in customer or user interaction.

But, you don’t need to tie your lot with the big brands and get lost in their ecosystem. Some companies like SnatchBot only do chatbots, and they add the best features like natural language processing, payments and so on that most businesses need. With this singular focus, they can help businesses create the best bots that help the business improve its customer services.

Whatever your business needs, there are plenty of services available, and competition to add new features will help drive this young industry forward.